We’re not sure who’s going to prevail in the Battle of Pennsylvania, 2009 edition, but we do know this: the winner will be bucking long odds in the process.
No Stanley Cup finalist since the 1999-2000 Dallas Stars has as much as captured a playoff round the subsequent season, something the Penguins are still in position to do with a 3-2 series lead over the Flyers.
Philadelphia, meantime, has never in its history come back from a 3-1 series deficit (0-13), a feat they’re inching towards following a gutsy 3-0 victory over Pittsburgh Thursday.
A couple more efforts like the one the Broad Street crew assembled in Game 5 and we may again be looking at a Cinderella/Team of Destiny.
Philadelphia got precisely what was necessary to get back into the series: secondary scoring to support Mike Richards and a flagging Jeff Carter, solid team defense, outstanding goaltending and fortunate bounces.
The secondary and even tertiary scoring came from the likes of Arron Asham, Claude Giroux and Mike Knuble. They took advantage of Pens turnovers and rebounds to solve Marc-Andre Fleury, who performed admirably, though he couldn’t duplicate his Game 4 head-stander.
On the blueline, Braydon Coburn had another monster game for Philly (25:41 of ice time), blocking shots, playing physically and frustrating Pittsburgh’s big guns on repeated occasions.
Biron flashed the form he displayed in last year’s run to the conference final, stopping all 28 shots he faced, including 15 in a bar-the-door first period performance.
Even when he was fooled, things broke his way. He had no idea where the puck was on a first period wrap-around attempt, but Tyler Kennedy misfired. In the third period, a shoot-in took a crazy bounce and nearly caromed in the net off the back of his pad, but somehow managed to stay out. And the one puck that did beat him was called off when video review officials in Toronto correctly rule Evgeni Malkin kicked the puck in.
From a Penguins perspective, they came out starving in the first, affirmatively answering their 2009 post-season motto ‘Ya Hungry?’
We can only surmise they scarfed down some pizzas or Primanti Brothers sandwiches between periods, because they looked pretty content from the second onwards.
Sidney Crosby was a force in the first, shaking off hits like King Kong swatted aircraft, getting more and more determined all the while. But he couldn’t carry that momentum and the rest of his team through the second and third periods and his frustration became apparent as he took two late stick-infraction penalties.
Malkin played OK, but the league’s leading scorer and probable Hart Trophy finalist was too quiet when it counted. Pittsburgh will need him to match Crosby’s intensity in Game 6 to help avoid a final showdown at Mellon.
Show off your hockey knowledge by entering The Hockey News’ FREE Playoff Challenge!
THN.com’s Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every Friday.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.